Bob Cummins was rarely more comfortable than when he was on the water.
A legendary Northwest rowing figure, Cummins was described as a gentle giant — he stood 6 feet 5 — whose calming demeanor allowed him to become one of the best teachers and representatives of the sport in the greater Seattle area.
“He was a giant of a man — not just in physical stature but in his reputation as well,” said Gary Artim, a friend and president of the Lake Stevens Rowing Club.
Cummins died last Saturday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, surrounded by friends and family, at age 72.
Cummins was born in Everett on March 27, 1949, the son of Bob Cummins and Margaret “Mardy” Pashke. He spent his youth playing several sports, lettering in four while at Everett High School. Following his graduation in 1967, Cummins enrolled at the University of Washington.
While there, a friend invited Cummins to join the UW men’s crew team. He walked on and moved into the crew house the team lived in near the boathouse.
His time on Montlake began a lifelong love for the sport.
“I remember him talking about the trust (he and his UW teammates) developed between each other,” said Cummins’ daughter Angie Sievers, a former rower who was the 1999 women’s lightweight quad world champion.
Cummins graduated from UW in 1971 and quickly settled down, marrying Barbara Lagozzino in 1972. He later set up a chiropractic practice in Bellevue and did that for 22 years.
He and Barb had three children: Angie, Bob Jr., and Jo. It was through his children that Cummins rediscovered his passion for rowing and found a love for teaching.
Sievers began rowing in early high school, and her brother followed not long after. However, she didn’t know her father was a former UW rower until later, when he mentioned it in passing while at one of the children’s regattas.
“He was just very thoughtful of everyone having their own experience in the sport, getting from it what they needed to get from it and not influencing how someone might experience it,” she said.
Cummins’ philosophy remained true even if a person didn’t want to row. His youngest daughter, Jo, never got into the sport like her parents and siblings, instead choosing soccer. Though he didn’t have the same understanding of soccer, he supported her, showing up to as many games as he could.
Angie attended Washington State, and Bob Jr. chose Cornell, though a back injury led him back to UW. Both became world champions, and their father followed them around the globe to support them.
Cummins sold his chiropractic practice in 1999. He had founded the Lake Stevens Rowing Club with Barb and was looking for other ways to become involved in rowing when he was offered a spot as a master boat builder at Pocock Racing Shells, a position he held until 2020.
One of the first boats he built carried Sievers across the finish line at the 1999 World Championships.
“Inside that boat, he wrote a message to me,” she said. “We ended up winning the world championships in that boat, so that was really special.”
Cummins’ rowing involvement didn’t stop with his children, though. He helped found the Northwest Rowing Council and was a U.S. Rowing referee, earning the 2004 Julian Wolf Award as the rowing official who “stood apart in making contributions to the sport.”
He also continued to serve as the president of the LSRC, creating a rowing community similar to the one he had in college, but for people of all ages. After retiring from Pocock, he had hoped to spend his time remodeling the LSRC boathouse.
“Bob Cummins was literally a builder of rowing in Washington state and always did it with a smile,” UW men’s rowing coach Michael Callahan said. “He built rowing boats, clubs, regattas, courses, children and dreams for all to share and experience the art of rowing. He shared his love and passion to many around the Pacific Northwest and will be missed and loved by those he inspired.”
Cummins is survived by his wife, three children and 12 grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be announced later. The family asks that any memorial contributions go to LSRC or a cancer foundation.